Costa Rica is a terrific destination for families. If you're traveling with very small children, you might want to stick close to the beaches, or consider a large resort with a children's program and babysitting services. But for slightly older kids and teens, particularly those with an adventurous streak, Costa Rica is a lot of fun. Youngsters and teens, especially those with strong adventurous and inquisitive traits, will do great here. The biggest challenges to families traveling with children are travel distances and the logistical trials of moving around within the country, which is why I recommend flying in and out of Liberia and basing yourself in Guanacaste.
Day 1: Arrive in Guanacaste
Fly directly into Liberia. From here it's a drive of 30 to 45 minutes to any of the area's many beach resorts, especially around the Papagayo Peninsula. If you can afford them, the Four Seasons Resort and the Andaz Peninsula Papagayo Resort are standouts. Both have excellent children’s programs and tons of activity and tour options. Alternatively, Las Catalinas is an entire family-friendly town with condo-style rooms, plus its own beach, multiple pools, and a few restaurants.
Day 2: Get Your Bearings & Enjoy Your Resort
Get to know and enjoy the facilities and activities offered up at your hotel or resort. Spend time on the beach or at the pool. Build some sand castles, or get involved in a pickup game of beach volleyball or soccer. In the afternoon, go on a sail and snorkel cruise or stand up paddle boarding. If you choose a large resort, check out the children’s program and any scheduled activities or tours that appeal to your family. Feel free to adapt the following days’ suggestions accordingly.
Day 3: Rafting on the Corobicí River
The whole family will enjoy a rafting tour on the gentle Corobicí River. Rios Tropicales offers leisurely trips that are appropriate for all ages, except infants. In addition to the slow float and occasional mellow rapids, there'll be plenty of opportunities to watch birds and other wildlife along the way. If you're here between late September and late February, book a turtle tour at nearby Playa Grande for the evening. The whole family will be awestruck by the amazing spectacle of a giant leatherback turtle digging a nest and laying her eggs.
DAY 4: El Viejo Wetlands
About an hour’s drive from the Guanacaste beaches, El Viejo Wildlife Refuge & Wetlands makes a fabulous day trip. Set on a massive old farmstead bordering Palo Verde National Park, this private reserve offers up some of Guanacaste’s best wildlife viewing, with boat trips on the Tempisque River and safari-style open-Jeep tours through surrounding wetlands, as well as a host of other cultural and adventure tour options. Lunch is served in a beautiful, century-old farm building.
Head for the hills and book a full-day Adventure Pass outing to Hacienda Guachipelín, next to Rincón de la Vieja National Park. Older and more adventurous children can go river tubing, do a horseback ride, or take one of the zipline canopy tours. Younger children should get a kick out of visiting the working farm and cattle ranch, butterfly garden, and serpentarium here.
Day 6: Learn to Surf
Head to Tamarindo and arrange for the whole family to take surf or boogie-board lessons. You can arrange classes and rent equipment at either Kelly’s Surf Shop or Witch’s Rock Surf Camp.
Day 7: Leaving Liberia
Use any spare time you have before your flight out of Liberia to buy last-minute souvenirs and gifts, or just laze on the beach or by the pool.Your best bet for gift shopping is probably La Gran Nicoya. If you want a piece of fine art or a local print, head to Hidden Garden Art Gallery. Both stores are conveniently located on the way to the airport.